Since Snowbirding in my RV, I’ve lost or run out of heat three times. The first time was while boondocking in Nevada. My RV battery died, so even though I had propane, the flame could not ignite. I also ran out of propane once in both Arizona and California.
My Keystone Bullet Crossfire comes equipped with two propane tanks and I’m usually plugged into shore power. So, how do I run out of heat or propane? I like to travel light and make as few trips into town as possible, so I’m not always vigilant about keeping my tanks filled.
As bad luck would have it, all three times when I ran out of propane, we had a winter storm. One of those was the night of Thanksgiving, which saw temperatures drop to freezing point in the desert. And yet, I was nice and toasty in a tin box that people often complain has too little insulation. Here’s how I stayed warm and how you can, too.
Use an RV-Friendly Space Heater
Both of the times I ran out of propane, I was hooked up to shore power. If I had an RV-friendly space heater, I would have been nice and warm in no time. Unfortunately, the space heater I bought at the start of my snowbirding journey is not RV friendly. The second I plug it in, it sets off the smoke alarm. It happens every, single time.
Be sure to check any space heater you plan to bring with you on the road to ensure it will not trigger your alarm. If it does, return it and get another one.
Cover the Windows
When I went hunting for my vacation home on wheels, big windows were a must-have feature. I have an indoor-only cat who relies on well-placed windows for his entertainment. Unfortunately, like a sticks-and-bricks home, windows are a major source of heat gain during the summer and heat loss during the winter.
RVers all around the world swear by the insulation power of Reflectix. However, I find that just closing my blinds does an amazing job. I can feel the difference when working at the dinette, after dark.
Put on Thermals
If you’re RVing in the winter, even if you plan to stick to warmer climates, I hope you have thermals. Before I hit the road, I bought winter socks and thermal pyjamas. They are extremely comfortable and they keep the chill off. If you don’t have thermals, layer up. I have a very low tolerance for cold weather, so I layered up even with thermals on.
Don’t be afraid to throw on two pairs of socks, if you need to. Your warmth is more important than not looking like an over-sized pumpkin!
Your ability to do this will depend on why you ran out of heat and what your resources are. When my RV battery died in the Nevada mountains, I could still light the propane stove manually. Similarly, when I ran out of propane while hooked up to shore power, I could heat food or beverages in the microwave, on my electronic cooktop, or via my counter-top oven.
Cooking inside your RV can raise the temperature, but you should never use your appliances for the sole purpose of generating heat. Here are some meal choices to consider for cold winter nights:
- Bean stew
- Soups (even Ramen!)
- Warm oatmeal
- Hot cocoa or tea
Fill a Water Bottle
If you still have access to other sources of heat, fill a bottle with warm water. Ideally, you should use a metal bottle. Metal conducts heat better than any other material choice you have, so this is always your best bet. I have a metal bottle that I keep in the RV for this specific purpose and I have used it all three times that I ran out of propane.
I sometimes bring it to bed during wind storms, even when my furnace is fully functional. Try not to use a thermos or anything built specifically for hot beverages. These are meant to keep the outside of the bottle from getting warm, which defeats the whole purpose.
I have a comforter set and a blanket on my RV bed for snowbirding. Most nights, this is fine as-is. When you didn’t get to heat up the RV before bed, you might need a little more than this. Having a back-up comforter, extra blankets, or both isn’t a bad idea.
I keep a throw blanket on the sofa. On all three nights that I lost heat, that blanket was the final addition to all my layers of clothing. A sleeping bag isn’t a bad addition either, but I’ve never used mine in these instances.
Go To Bed Early
If you don’t have work to do, just go to bed. I worked Thanksgiving day and night. However, when I realized I was out of propane, I finished the last of my work as early as possible and headed to bed. Your bed will always be the cosiest and warmest spot in the RV when the cold starts to creep in.
If you’re like me, the cold will also help lull you to sleep. In fact, despite my very low tolerance for cold weather, when I go to bed at night, I turn the furnace down to the lowest setting, so it only comes on when the RV temperature dips to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Snuggle With Another Warm Body
When I ran out of heat on Thanksgiving night, in Arizona, the temperature inside the RV dipped to around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I was cosy with my water bottle, thermal wear, and millions of blankets. But, the icing on the cake was snuggling with Shadow.
In Atlanta, he slept in bed with me at night, especially during the winter. Since we’ve been on the road, Shadow prefers to stare out the windows at night or play with his toys. He loves cold weather, but he knew I didn’t and could use the extra warmth. If you have a pet, spouse, or child travelling with you, be sure to snuggle up for some of that body heat.
In the winter, it’s really not as warm as you might expect in the Desert Southwest. Some parts of the desert are already under snow. Where I currently am, we have day temperatures in the early 60s. We also have a few lucky days with temperatures in the 70s. But, come nightfall, temperatures plummet to the 40s.
That’s why knowing how to stay warm and toasty when the wind is howling outside at 3 in the morning is so important. It can make even the worst wind storms, in your RV, feel like Mother Nature gently rocking your cradle.
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